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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

Maharashtra verdict today: Saffron state or Opposition revival?

In the first major set of state polls after the BJP’s win in the Lok Sabha elections in May, Maharashtra saw a contest between the National Democratic Alliance of the BJP and Shiv Sena on one side, and the Opposition alliance of the Congress and NCP on the other. Both sides were optimistic about the results.

assembly-elections Updated: Oct 24, 2019 06:08 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
All Maharashtra exit polls have predicted the return of incumbent CM Devendra Fadnavis.
All Maharashtra exit polls have predicted the return of incumbent CM Devendra Fadnavis.(Pratham Gokhale/HT file photo)
         

After weeks of intense campaigning, and polling on Monday, Maharashtra will wake up to the results of its Assembly elections on Thursday.

Today’s outcome will determine the next chief minister (CM) of the state, the nature of the next government, the elected representatives of 288 constituencies, and will shape the future trajectory of national and regional parties and a range of top leaders in the state. All exit polls have predicted the return of incumbent CM Devendra Fadnavis.

In the first major set of state polls after the BJP’s win in the Lok Sabha elections in May, Maharashtra saw a contest between the National Democratic Alliance of the BJP and Shiv Sena on one side, and the Opposition alliance of the Congress and NCP on the other. Both sides were optimistic about the results.

Smaller formations, particularly AIMIM of Asaduddin Owaisi and the Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi are also in the fray. Haryana also went to polls this week, where the main contest is between BJP and Congress.

Elections in Maharashtra have been marked by four features — a mix of national and local concerns, questions around leadership, regional and caste variations, and dynamics within the alliances .

The BJP’s campaign was led by PM Narendra Modi, party president Amit Shah, and Fadnavis.

The party focused on key decisions taken by the central government after it being re-elected, particularly the move to nullify Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. It portrayed itself as the force championing “nationalism” and repeatedly challenged the Opposition to clarify its stance on the issue. The BJP also spoke of welfare schemes, both at the central and state level, to showcase its governance record. For its part, the Opposition largely concentrated on issues of the economy, in particular, the slowdown in growth, agrarian distress, droughts in parts of the state, and growing unemployment.

Along with the issues, a key element of the election campaign was the question of who would lead the state. The BJP formally endorsed Fadnavis as its CM candidate, with analysts suggesting that the polls mark his rise as an independent leader in his own right. A Brahman from Nagpur, the CM is seen as having delivered a stable government, neutralised his political rivals both inside and outside the party, established a working relationship with Shiv Sena and has a perception of being honest. The Opposition did not declare a CM face; the campaign was led by NCP’s supremo Sharad Pawar who addressed dozens of rallies. The party however had to suffer a range of desertions in recent weeks, with key leaders moving to the BJP. The Congress national campaign was led by Rahul Gandhi, who, however, addressed select rallies.

The election is also expected to reflect a major social churn in the state. The BJP, till now, has not had any substantial degree of support from the Marathas, over 30% of the population. It has instead depended on non-Maratha communities, particularly the Other Backward Classes. But the party — with its support for Maratha reservations and cooption of a range of Maratha leaders — is hoping to make inroads in the community in Western Maharashtra and Marathwada in particular. The Opposition is relying largely on the support of Marathas, Muslims, Dalits, and depending on local candidates, select OBC communities.

Another key feature in the polls was the internal dynamic within the alliances, particularly the NDA. After months of seeking an equal seat-sharing arrangement and even the position of CM, the Shiv Sena agreed to contest 124 of the 288 seats, leaving the rest for the BJP, thus establishing clearly that the national party is the senior partner in the alliance. Both parties are now hoping to maximise their “strike rates” in the election to be able to strike a more favourable power sharing arrangement after the results come in. For the Sena, the significance of the polls also comes from the fact that Aaditya Thackeray has become the first member of the Thackeray family to contest polls.

Girish Mahajan, senior BJP leader and state minister, said, “We will win more than 205 seats with BJP alone expected to cross 135 seats. The performance in all the regions will be equally good for the ruling alliance. We will form the government with Shiv Sena”.

“Along with NCP and smaller allies, we will win at least 100 seats, according to our internal assessment. People are unhappy with the ruling alliance and it will be evident in the results. Most of the exit polls are irrational,” said Balasaheb Thorat, Maharashtra Congress president .

Today’s results will thus determine the fates of Fadnavis, the Thackerays, Pawars, and Congress’ regional leaders. But at the national level, it will show whether BJP’s dominance is reinforced or whether the opposition has revived.